Written evidence from Professor Richard
Rose FBA, Director, Centre for the Study of Public Policy, University
THE EU BILL'S
1. The absence of a reference to referendums in the
Lisbon Treaty shows the ambivalence of EU member states about
the practice of holding national referendums on EU treaty changes.
There is no desire in the European Council to add to the existing
complexity of expanding EU powers by introducing a referendum.
However, member states cannot object to national referendums being
held on EU measures, because 18 member states have done so.
2. Although most Members of the European Parliament
consider referendums an unnecessary or undesirable feature of
representative democracy, this view is not shared by Europe's
citizens. When the 2009 European Election Study asked Do you
agree or disagree that EU treaty changes should be decided by
referendum?, 63% voiced agreement, 18% were negative and 19%
had no opinion. In every EU country most respondents were positive.
In Britain, 81% endorsed the principle of referendums on treaties,
9% were against, and 10 had no opinion.
3. While the expansion of European Union powers in
the past 25 years has increased the use of referendums, national
referendums on EU matters remain relatively rare occurrences.
However, the scope of the pending British bill raises the prospect
of referendums dealing with many policy areas and the volume of
new EU policies is not in the hands of the UK Parliament. Hence,
to avoid the risk of "referendum
fatigue", the Committee should consider how to ensure that
provisions for securing approval through a Resolution or Act of
Parliament may be deemed sufficient.
4. The co-decision process of the EU involves substantial
negotiations between member states to arrive at an agreement.
The pending bill will alter the position of the British government
in this process. It faces other governments with the choice of
adopting a measure that would trigger a British referendum or
limiting changes to measures that will not require a ballot or
if they do, be reasonably sure of British endorsement. However,
the greater the majority in favour of a transfer of powers, the
less weight that other countries are likely to give to a British
5. The bargaining that occurs among 27 countries
in the negotiating process leading up to a treaty change can produce
a document that bundles together a variety of alterations, some
acceptable to Parliament while others are not. However, a referendum
ballot reduces choice to a simple Yes or No to the package as
6. The Committee may want to consider whether a British
referendum should be binding or advisory. A binding referendum
has finality but also eliminates the possibility of re-opening
negotiations in order to remove objectionable clauses in an otherwise
acceptable policy package. There are precedents regarding Denmark
and Ireland for the EU to modify a measure to make it more acceptable
to a member state that has initially rejected it. If a referendum
result was advisory, provision could be made that, with or without
renegotiation, an affirmative vote of Parliament would be required
7. The political authority of a referendum result
depends on the turnout and size of the majority. The Committee
may want to consider whether the categorisation of a vote as binding
or advisory should depend on the percentage of the electorate
voting and/or on the size of a majority.
8. Because the EU referendum bill is concerned with
procedures rather than the transfer of specific national powers
to the EU, it is not inherently anti-integration. When the European
Election Study asked whether European integration should be furthered
or had already gone too far, across Europe the median group, 30%,
gave replies that indicated it depended on the issue. In Britain,
24% said integration has already gone too far, 49% were in favour
of more integration and 27% had no clear opinion. This indicates
that in a referendum on a treaty change, the median Briton is
likely to take a view related to what its specific aims are rather
than treat a referendum as a vote for or against EU membership.
(This memorandum draws on research being conducted
by the author as the Principal Investigator in a study of REPRESENTING
EUROPEANS funded by the British Economic & Social Research
Council. The opinions expressed are exclusively those of the author.)
2 December 2010